Monday, 30 November 2020

Melting Moments by Anna Goldsworthy


Opinions varied about this ‘domestic’ work of fiction from dissatisfaction to thoroughly enjoying it. Some of us thought there were hidden depths to the story while others just wanted more about the characters and less episodic moments.

Anna Goldsworthy is a concert pianist and teacher as well as an accomplished writer. Melting moments is her third published work, but her first novel. She is 46 and the daughter of well-known and much published writer and medical doctor Peter Goldsworthy. Adelaide is her home town and it is the major background to the story. 

 

The story begins in 1941 when Ruby travels to Sydney to reunite with her new husband Arthur, who has been in New Guinea. The story flows on from this point concentrating on Ruby and her mother and mother-in-law, her daughter Eva and her granddaughter Amy.  There are numerous short episodes or glimpses of her long marriage to Arthur and their relationship in the big house in a suburb of Adelaide. 

 

First impressions 

  • Partly enjoyed it but not a book I would recommend
  • Little vignettes were good to read
  • No literary overlay to it
  • Enjoyed reading about the roles of men and women from the forties onwards and especially the idea of the perfect housewife
  • Very funny in places and possibly ironic
  • Well written and quirky
  • Episodic which I found a bit prosaic, liked the setting of Adelaide
  • Found that Ruby’s life was similar to my Mum’s life – ie no career except in the home – and father’s dominance as breadwinner
  • Didn’t hear much of Ruby’s interior life, worried that Ruby and Arthur didn’t know each other even after many years of co-habitation
  • Issue of the returned soldier and their common refusal to talk about their war experiences and how that changed them irrevocably and the subsequent effect upon their marriages, especially if wed before going off to war. They came back different people. (Later in our discussion we were surprised that Ruby did not want to hear about Arthur’s experiences when he finally wanted to tell her.) 
  • I was annoyed that there was not more detail about Arthur’s war in New Guinea (but others argued that that was not the point of the book)
  • Not well written because too much repetition
  • Frustrating and dissatisfying novel
  • Would have liked more about music – had no idea the author is a concert pianist
  • Read it twice and loved it
  • The author was exploring the path of many women in Australia and how their lives changed by the influences of 1960s/1970s Feminism – working outside the home after many years and possibly enjoying another romantic relationship?
  • Melting momentst itle is good because that is what the book captures – pinpointing aspects of Ruby’s life which explains the episodic structure
  • Gentle pace and would have liked more about the relationship between Ruby and Arthur 

Discussion

 

It has been suggested that this work is a little like works by Jane Austen but we didn’t agree. It is a study of women and their threads through life. (Some of the story is based on Goldsworthy’s Grandmother’s life.) It only has a little satire. Some of the characters are a little stereotypical such as Arthur’s mother, the rather sad Granny Jenkins, but some of us liked the contrast with Ruby’s Mother who seems so normal. 

 

Ruby’s affair after Arthur’s death was much discussed. We liked the fact that Eva, Ruby’s daughter, told her that she had done her duty as far as Arthur was concerned and it was fine to have another relationship. We wondered where the character of Eva, a baby boomer, came from as she seemed so different from Ruby and the other older women. (Maybe Goldsworthy was inspired to highlight the difference from the older generation). We calculated that Ruby was born about 1919 or 1920 when a few of our mothers were also born, which was considered the Great Generation (1901-1927). The next generation was called the Silent Generation (born between 1928-1945). 

 

We spent considerable time discussing Arthur and his characteristics. He was supportive of his daughter getting an education to become a doctor and showed that he was quietly wise.  We admired the fact that he allowed his wife Ruby to take her mother on a holiday to Mildura quite a few times. There were also echoes of family life experienced by us or by our relatives eg hasty marriages before heading off to the war. This was often done by couples as the man felt that if he didn’t come back the woman had an income from a war widow’s pension. Arthur even mentions this reason. Arthur also was tolerant of having two mothers living with them which must have been hard for both of them. Arthur’s book on sex, (caused much hilarity), which he and Ruby enjoyed for a while at least. 

 

This is a very suburban novel. The suburb Glenside, where Ruby lived had an asylum so it was tainted by that institution for many Adelaide people. Ruby and Arthur had a pleasant home there, and she obviously loved it. She made choices and had a husband who allowed her to garden and work around the home. She even worked out of the home, later in life. In comparison, she was angry with her father who treated her mother badly, until her Mother finally left him on the farm and moved to Adelaide to live with Ruby and the family in the big house. Her father was a charmer but not reliable. 

 

Ruby could have had an affair when she was still young but the opportunity disappeared and she was often wistful about what might have been! Ruby lead an ordinary life, not one filled with drama. Things might have happened but did not. 

 

We were sad that there was not more about Ruby’s son who seemed to just fade away in the story. 

 

Three current shows were mentioned which are related to some of the issues raised in this novel :

 

Mum:  a comedy on television which one member likes

Women of steel: a very good documentary about migrant women in Wollongong in 1980 who took BHP to court over discrimination by not allowing them to work in the steel industry.

Brazen Hussies: a documentary film which is on at the Palace Cinema until Wednesday.  

It is about the Women’s movement between 1968-1975 and the issue of choice for women with what they do with their lives.

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